10 April 2016

John 21:1-19

“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’” (v.15)

Psalm: Psalm 30


The fourth Gospel differs from the other three in its account of Jesus' appearances to his disciples after his resurrection. According to John, Jesus appears first to Mary Magdalene in the garden (John 20:11-18), then to some of the disciples (not including Thomas) on the evening of that day (John 20:19-23), then to Thomas and others a week later (John 20:24-29). Lastly, at an unspecified time, Jesus greets his disciples from the shore of Lake Galilee as they complete an unsuccessful night's fishing.

It is a story which is rich in meaning and invites deep reflection. One clue to understanding it seems to be in the number of echoes of other stories in John's Gospel that we might hear, not unlike an operetta's finale based on reprised tunes from earlier in the work. The focus of the latter part of the story is on Peter and three echoes can be heard in the repeated question and answer sequence which begins with Jesus asking, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"

The first echo is of the first chapter of the Gospel. When Andrew brought his brother Simon to Jesus, Jesus 'looked at him and said, "'You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas' (which is translated Peter)" (John 1:42). We do not hear Jesus call Peter 'Simon son of John' again until this conversation after breakfast. It is an echo of Peter's first call.

The echo is twice repeated as the threefold questioning of Peter reminds us of the three times that Peter said he did not know Jesus (John 18:15-17, 25-27). The recapitulation has a clear message: the denial is forgiven and Peter is free to start his ministry again.

The third echo tells us something about that ministry. Peter is commanded to "feed my sheep" (v. 17). This echoes chapter 10 where Jesus describes himself as "the good shepherd". Peter is entrusted with a share in that shepherding but is warned that it will be costly. The good shepherd lay down his life for the sheep (John 10:11). Peter is also called to service that will cost him his life (verse 18). The deceptively simple phrase with which the passage ends, "Follow me" (v. 19) (itself an echo of words in chapter 1), is loaded with meaning.

To Ponder

  • In the echo of his denial, Peter had to face the reality of what he had done. In post-Apartheid South Africa, a truth and reconciliation commission worked to address the crimes that had been committed so that the country could move forward. Are there situations of which you are aware where a painful truth has to be faced in order that there might be a new beginning? How might that process begin?
  • This resurrection appearance was a new beginning for Peter. In some churches there is the renewal of Baptism vows on Easter Day, a sign of a new beginning in our commitment to Christ. How helpful do you find it to 'go back to the beginning' of your own Christian story at Easter?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Jonathan Hustler

Having been a Methodist circuit minister and a theological college tutor, Jonathan is now Ministerial Coordinator for Oversight of Ordained Ministries in the Connexional Team..